These jailhouse sketches of escaped Amistad slaves became the faces of rebellion

By Rian Dundon | Timeline

hen a ship of escaped slaves was intercepted by customs agents off the coast of Long Island in 1839, prospects didn’t look good for those on board. Weeks earlier, near Cuba, they’d commandeered the Spanish schooner La Amistad, killed most of her crew, and pressed the surviving navigators to set a course back to their native Sierra Leone. Instead, the remaining crew members steered the vessel northwest, hastening its approach to the American mainland and what they must have assumed would be swift punishment for their newly empowered captors. While escaping slavery was not illegal in the North, mutiny and murder were, and the 53 Amistad rebels would soon be on trial for their lives.

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